The primary deliverable of this project is RedFeather itself, which provides an out-of-the box repository solution in a single php script. It distills the complexity of a full-scale repository platform to provide a feature set that we believe satisfies 90% of users who want to share OERs but don’t have the server infrastructure or expertise to do so. This includes independent teachers, those working for a university (or department) without an existing institutional repository, or small projects who only wish to share a small number of resources. In these instances it is very unlikely that the cost of setting up a repository can be justified so the resources are either never shared, or simply uploaded as simple files. This means that they won’t be properly annotated, attributed or indexed in any meaningful way. The RedFeather platform provides a solution that makes it feasible for almost anyone to benefit from the added value of OER without a significant initial investment.
By implementing the entire platform in pure PHP we eliminate the need for any additional software to be installed on the target server; it can even run without a database. Furthermore, the code is compatible all the way back to PHP 4 to truly maximise the number of webservers capable of running it. We feel this is approaching the theoretical minimum system requirements a repository could possibly have while still being locally hosted.
In the remainder of this post I’m going to describe the key features of RedFeather and talk a little about how they differ from those of a larger repository system.
Arguably the most important part of a repository is the resource summary page, since this is what the consumers of OER will ultimately see. With a RedFeather resource, users are treated to a generous in-browser preview of the uploaded resource, a clearly layed-out metadata summary, and a variety of social networking options, including Twitter tools and a Facebook commenting widget.
Like HumBox, there is a heavy emphasis on the resource itself being the focal point of the page as opposed to supporting metadata, which is usually of lesser importantance in a teaching and learning repository. The resource preview utilises the incredible powerful Google Docs Viewer, which allows us to embed a variety of file types, including Word documents, Powerpoint presentations and PDFs. Images are rendered as simple <img> html elements, while other media files type could potentially be supported with an additional plugin. Sadly, embedding rich media in html 5 isn’t currently feasible without browser plugins or server-side conversion tools, which would add unacceptable server side dependencies to the RedFeather core.
The index page for RedFeather includes a customisable description of the repository, an ordered list of the uploaded documents, and links to the repository RSS and RDF. A simple resource filter is also provided so users can quickly find resources relating to a certain keyword or phrase. From here users can click the individual titles to visit the resource page for the item, or download the file directly using the link provided in the metadata box.
Uploading a new file to the repository is remarkable straightforward and can be done directly from the RedFeather resource manager with only a few clicks. Once the file has been uploaded, the user is automatically taken to the annotation workflow where they can fill in the fields and make it immediately available. By streamlining the process of adding resources and employing an “upload first” workflow we hope to further reduce the barriers preventing uptake of OER sharing by inexperienced users. The resource manager also allows the user to delete or edit existing resources, and change the order that they will appear on the browse screen.
An alternative workflow is also available via FTP, which allows users to upload files directly to the webserver without using the browser. This is useful for extremely large files, or when first populating the repository (since you don’t have to upload each file individual). These unprocessed files appear in a seperate menu on the resource manager ready to be annotated at the administrator’s discretion.
Default RedFeather Template, Customisation and Plugins
The default RedFeather template gives the repository a modern look-and-feel with an unintrusive single column design and bold headers. It also supports a certain amount of customisation and the standard Red theme can easily be changed to use the colours and font-style of the administrator’s choice – it is also possible to change the name, tagline and description of the repository. More significant customisations of RedFeather can be achieved by writing a plugin to overrides the template. I talk about RedFeather’s versatile plugin architecture in great depth in my series of posts on the subject.
RedFeather is an open-source project and is available on GitHub at https://github.com/mattrosstaylor/RedFeather.